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Preparing for allergy season

Chronic Conditions | Wellness | April 20, 2021
Girl rubs itchy nose due to hayfever
How to enjoy spring and summer even though you have a pollen allergy.

Allergies, hay fever or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis – regardless of what you call it, you know how miserable it can make you feel.

Seasonal allergies are caused by allergens – such as tree, grass and weed pollens, or mold spores. When you breathe these in, your immune system overreacts to the particles and causes a reaction such as sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes. It can lead to persistent nasal congestion, and in some, cough and asthma.

“Allergies are one of the most common chronic diseases in America, with nearly 60 million people living with seasonal allergies,” says, Dr. William Anderson, allergy-immunology specialist with PeaceHealth Medical Group Asthma & Allergy Clinic in Bellingham, Wash. “In the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, the allergy season can last from February to September.”

Fortunately, there are things you can do to can make yourself feel better. Here are two strategies for surviving the allergy season:

1. Combat the culprits that cause your allergic reactions. 

Do whatever you can to keep pollen, mold, dust or other allergens down and out.

At home:

  • Close windows and doors to block allergens from getting in. Place air filters in windows that are left open.
  • Leave shoes, jackets and hats at the door to keep from bringing pollen or other allergens into the rest of the house.
  • Dust and vacuum with a HEPA filter weekly — or even daily in the spring and summer.
  • Bathe after being outside to get rid of pollen; it’s especially helpful at night so you don’t bring allergens into bed with you.
  • Change your bedding weekly.
  • If you use an air purifier, be sure to change or clean the filter every month.
  • Do you have houseplants? Make sure they aren’t adding to your misery.

On the go:

  • Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to keep allergens out of your eyes and hair.
  • Wear a mask when the pollen count is especially high.
  • Keep your car windows up and don’t use the vent.
  • Clean your vehicle weekly — inside and out — during the height of spring.
  • If you are allergic to grass pollen, avoid travel through or near tall grass from June through July. This is especially important for children.

2. Make yourself comfortable. 

Sometimes, there's just no avoiding your allergens. So, when your body reacts, do whatever you can to ease your sneezing, itching, coughing, stuffiness and other symptoms.

“If you have a grass pollen allergy, consider starting medications such as anti-inflammatory nasal spray and antihistamine at the beginning of May because the pollen peaks at the same time the cottonwood tree fluffs appear,” says Dr. Anderson.

You can also ask your doctor for personalized recommendations, including:

  • How to identify your allergen triggers.
  • Best medications for you, whether over the counter, prescription or shots.
  • Guidelines for when to seek for more assertive treatment.

Treatments to consider include:

  • Antihistamines - these are helpful for mild symptoms but often are not enough for those with moderate or severe allergy symptoms.
  • Anti-inflammatory nasal sprays such as fluticasone and triamcinolone - these are very effective when used daily and started one to two weeks before allergy season. They reduce the buildup of allergy cells in the mucous membrane that cause allergy symptoms.
  • Eye drops such as those containing ketotifen or olopatadine - these are helpful for allergies affecting the eyes and most can be purchased over the counter.

Reduce stress. Studies have shown that stress makes allergic reactions worse. Here are a few tactics to try:

  • Massage (a side benefit is that lying face down can help drain sinuses)
  • Meditation
  • Music
  • Yoga or other gentle exercises
  • Use saline nasal rinses to help cleanse the nasal passages.
  • Use sterile saline or other eye products to flush the eyes and remove pollens and histamine.
  • Exercise early in the morning when pollen counts are low, or workout indoors.
  • Use breathing strips.
  • Apply a compress — either warm or cool — to alleviate pressure behind your eyes and nose.

“Everyone is different, and it may take a bit to figure out what you’re suffering from and the best treatment for you,” says Dr. Anderson. “Your best option is to consult your allergist or primary care doctor to get you on the right path to feeling better.”

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